The Death Whisperer Series

The Death Whisperer Series
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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Mississippi Fred McDowell & Wine Guerilla Sonoma County Zin

The steaming temperatures (heat/humidity index above 100) that’ve been hanging around Nebraska for the past 16 days conjures up visions of an old blues guitarist sitting on the porch of a shack, playing a big ole Stella with a piece of steel. Tonight’s featured guitarist fits that vision perfectly. Mississippi" Fred McDowell was grew up in the small farming town (pop. 291) of Rossville, Tennessee (pop. 291), just east of Memphis and just north of the Mississippi border. The nickname "Mississippi" was attached to him after, when in his late thirties, he moved down to Como, Mississippi (pop. 1,391), about 40 miles south of Memphis on 51 Highway. His year of birth is uncertain, either 1904 or 1905, and he worked most of his life as a farm laborer, mill worker, and tractor driver. He played music at country dances and juke joints and has been called one of the most important interpreters of country-style blues. He was a stunning master of the bottleneck guitar style, playing in open-chord country tunings. One of his modern day students and protégés is Bonny Rait, THE queen of the slide guitar. So, here’s a bit of blues history.

I was on a business trip a while back and often times when I’m traveling, I stop by a wine shop and buy something to sip in my room while I work. It’s much less expensive and far more satisfying than working in the hotel bar. I picked up a wine I’ve been meaning to try, namely a Wine Guerilla 2009 Sonoma County Zinfandel ($19.00). The wine is actually 81 percent Zinfandel, 10 percent Petite Sirah, 8 percent Carignan and 1 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. Keep in mind, I’m drinking from a water glass—no Riedel’s in the hotel room, but nonetheless, there were plenty of dark fruit, mocha, and a bit of coffee aromas swirling around my nose. Lots of rich black raspberry and plum flavors with a finish repeating the aromas. I guess the best recommendation for this wine is that after four hours of working, I finished the entire bottle. Went back the next day for another, but made it last two days this time. Great wine for pairing with the country blues of a great old guitar player. Enjoy!


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Michael Bloomfield & Rocky Gully Shiraz Viognier

[Some of the text below is excerpted from Michael Bloomfield’s Official Biography Page]

Friday and thus ends another hectic week. Had a business trip to Philadelphia this week. At this rate, I’ll make United Premier Executive (>50,000 miles) in eight months. Tonight I’m featuring one of my original blues heros. Michael Bloomfield was born July 28, 1943, in Chicago, Illinois, my hometown. An indifferent student and self-described social outcast, Bloomfield immersed himself in the multi- cultural music world that existed in Chicago in the 1950s.

He got his first guitar at age 13. Initially attracted to the roots-rock sound of Elvis Presley and Scotty Moore, Bloomfield soon discovered the electrified big-city blues music indigenous to Chicago. At the age of 14 the exuberant guitar wunderkind began to visit the blues clubs on Chicago’s South Side with friend Roy Ruby in search of his new heroes: players such as Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Howling Wolf, and Magic Sam. Not content with viewing the scene from the audience, Bloomfield was known to leap onto the stage, asking if he could sit in as he simultaneously plugged in his guitar and began playing riffs.

Bloomfield was quickly accepted on the South Side, as much for his ability as for the audiences' appreciation of the novelty of seeing a young white player in a part of town where few whites were seen. Bloomfield soon discovered a group of like-minded outcasts. Young white players such as Paul Butterfield, Nick Gravenites, Charlie Musselwhite, and Elvin Bishop were also establishing themselves as fans who could hold their own with established bluesmen, many of whom were old enough to be their fathers.

Bloomfield's guitar work as a session player caught the ear of legendary CBS producer and talent scout John Hammond Sr., who flew to Chicago and immediately signed him to a recording contract. However CBS was unsure of exactly how to promote their new artist, declining to release any of the tracks recorded by Bloomfield's band, which included harp player Charlie Musselwhite.

With a contract but not much else, Bloomfield returned to playing clubs around Chicago until he was approached by Paul Rothchild, the producer of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band albums. Bloomfield was recruited to play slide guitar and piano on early recordings. The addition of Bloomfield to the Butterfield Band provided Paul Butterfield with a musician of equal caliber – Paul and Michael inspired and challenged each other as they traded riffs and musical ideas, one
establishing a pattern and the other following it, extending it, and handing it back.

Bloomfield left the Butterfield Blues Band in early 1967 anxious to lead his own band. That band, The Electric Flag, included Bloomfield's old friends from Chicago, organist Barry Goldberg and singer/songwriter Nick Gravenites, as well as bass player Harvey Brooks and drummer Buddy Miles. The band was well received at its official debut at the Monterey Pop Festival but quickly fell apart due to drugs, egos, and poor management.
Bloomfield, weary of the road, suffering from insomnia, and uncomfortable in the role of guitar superstar, returned to San Francisco to score movies, produce other artists, and play studio sessions. One of those sessions was a day of jamming in the studio with keyboardist Al Kooper. Super Session, the resultant release, with Bloomfield on side one and guitarist Stephen Stills on side two, once again thrust Bloomfield into the spotlight. Kooper's production and the improvisational nature of the recording session captured the quintessential Bloomfield sound: the fast flurries of notes, the incredible string bending, the precise attack, and his masterful use of tension and release.

By the late seventies Bloomfield's continuing drug and health problems caused erratic behavior and missed gigs, alienating a number of his old associates. Bloomfield continued playing with other musicians, including Dave Shorey and Jonathan Cramer. On November 15, 1980, Bloomfield joined Bob Dylan on stage at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco and jammed on "Like A Rolling Stone," the song they had recorded together 15 years earlier.

Michael Bloomfield was found dead in his car of a drug overdose in San Francisco, California on February 15, 1981. So, listen and enjoy some of the music from a blues guitarist who was way ahead of his time.

I’m going to pair Mike Bloomfield with a 2008 Rocky Gully Shiraz Viognier Frankland Estate ($16.00) The wine is deep ruby colored with dark fruits, violet, and licorice on the nose. It has a candied berry quality emerging as it aerates. In fact, it smells and tastes like a Rhone, subtle and complex, with floral-accented flavors of black raspberry, minerals and black pepper. Not quite as lush as many Australian red, and that’s a good thing. Finishes with a good peppery cut and a lingering floral quality. This is an excellent value and perfect for unwinding from the week with the music of a blues classic, Mike Bloomfield. Enjoy!


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Andy McKee and Torbreck Cuvee Juveniles Barossa Valley

Andy McKee is considered one of the world’s finest acoustic guitar soloists and, of course, one of my favorites. Originally from Topeka, Kansas, he is a self-taught guitar wizard and first came to the attention of guitar aficionados after he was a top finalist at the Winfield National Fingerstyle Guitar Championships. If you ever get to see one of his live shows, you’ll hear engaging repartee sprinkled between true guitar artistry. He manages to capture both the every day music fan and guitar aficionados with his expertise and down to earth wit and humor. McKee transforms the guitar from a simple stringed instrument to a dynamic calliope of sound. He brings his music to life through altered tunings, syncopated tapping, and his textural use of polyphonic tones and drones. If you’ve never heard him, you’re in for a treat. Enjoy!

Everybody wants to rule the world:

The heat/humidity index has been over 110 for the past week here in Nebraska, so there’s no sitting on the deck tonight. Instead, I’m ensconced in a rocking chair under the airconditioning vent with a bottle of 2008 Torbreck Cuvee Juveniles Barossa Valley ($24.00). David Powell started this Barossa operation in 1994, and its star quickly ascended. Now, Torbreck is the source of some of Australia's most successful Shiraz-based bottlings in an opulent, full-bodied style.

Inky purple in color, it explodes with a perfumed nose, displaying scents of dark berry preserves, kirsch, and violets with undertones of vanilla. It’s bursting with juicy dark fruits, black raspberry, cherry, and cassis on entry with a touch of sweetness  that slides into a lingering finish of mocha and coffee. This wine really hangs onto the palate, leaving floral and spice notes behind. Stay cool, listen to a bit of Andy McKee’s spectacular guitar work, and enjoy a wine that has garnered high praise from both Stephen Tanzer and Robert Parker…and of course me ;o)


Friday, July 8, 2011

Van der Kamp's Tandem Pinot Noir and Rush

Friday night and I’m ready for some classic rock, so I’m featuring Rush, a Canadian power rock trio composed of Alex Leifson (guitars), Getty Lee (Bass & vocals),  and Neil Peart (Drums & lyricist). The band is known for its musicianship, complex compositions, and eclectic lyrical motifs drawing heavily on science fiction, fantasy, and philosophy, as well as addressing humanitarian, social, emotional, and environmental concerns. All three members were and still are virtuosos on their respective instruments. Rush's music style has changed over the years, beginning with blues-inspired heavy metal on their first album, then encompassing hard rock, and progressive rock. As a group, Rush possesses 24 gold records and 14 platinum (3 multi-platinum) records. Rush's sales statistics place them third behind the Beatles and Rolling Stones for the most consecutive gold or platinum studio albums by a rock band.

Leifson and Lee are a powerful combination. Leifson’s ability to wail on the electric, then move to melodic classical styles is incredible. And as a bassist, trying to sing complicated lyrics AND play dynamic bass parts as Getty Lee does, is quite a daunting task. Trust me, I’m a bassist. If you’ve never heard of Rush, but like an edgier sound, I think you’re in for a treat.

Van der Kamp’s Tandem 2007 Pinot Noir. The Van der Kamp vineyard is the highest on Sonoma Mountain, and contains some of California’s oldest Pinot Noir. In case you haven’t heard, 2007 was as near-perfect a vintage as anyone is likely to see and the Van der Kamp Vineyard outdid itself. The aromatics of the Tandem yield all kinds of savory spices and floral notes that complement the bright red cherry and berry fruit, but it’s the texture and savory fruit flavor that is really compelling. Deep cherry/berry flavors, racy acidity, and soft tannins make this a wine that had me glad I bought four bottles. Definitely a classic wine for a classic rock group. Enjoy!


Monday, July 4, 2011

Tommy Emmanuel and Freemark Abbey Merlot

Since I reprised my feature of Greg Howe, one of the finest electric shredders on the scene today, I thought  I should balance him with someone whom I consider to be the finest acoustic shredder to pick up the guitar, namely Tommy Emmanuel.

In case you’ve never heard of him, Tommy is a two time Grammy nominated Australian guitarist who plays like no one you’ve ever heard. He plays melody, rhythm, bass, and drum on one guitar. He got his first guitar at age 4 and was taught initially by his mother. In 1962 he heard Chet Atkins who became a huge influence on his unique style, one that entails using all ten of his fingers to play. I daresay if he had the flexibility, he’d use his toes, too. I had to cut myself off at including sixteen selections, but I could go on and on. You’re gonna like him!

To enjoy Tommy, I suggest a 2008 Freemark Abby Merlot ($19.00). It’s a deep garnet color with a spicy oak bouquet. The flavors show layers of blackberry, cherry cassis, plums, vanilla, and dark chocolate. Both the entry and finish are smooth and rich with the latter lingering long after you’ve swallowed. It makes you want to open a second bottle, it’s that good. Wine Enthusiast rated it 94 and I agree. Very nice wine to accompany the acoustic shredding of Tommy Emmanuel. Enjoy!


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Greg Howe & Two Hands Angel's Share Shiraz

Had the business trip from hell this week. Got up Thursday morning at 2:30 AM to make a 5:45 flight to visit a collaborator at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. No problems until the return that evening. The flight back to Chicago was delayed 2 hours for no apparent reason then they had to do a special refueling procedure that took an hour. I missed my connection back to Omaha and stood in line for 1.5 hours waiting to get a flight out the following day. Of course, United was out of hotel vouchers, so I got a hotel on my own. The shuttle was late so my co-workers and I took a $20.00 cab ride to a hotel one mile from the airport. In a déjà vu the next day, the American ticket agent set new records for rudeness and the 3:30 PM American Airlines flight was two hours late. Finally made it home dog tired. So tonight, I need to let off some steam, therefore, I’m re-reviewing one of my favorite fusion guitarists, Greg Howe

Born December 8, 1963, Greg has been in the music business for thirty years and has released 9 CD’s. In 1996, he replaced Jennifer Batten as the guitarist on Michael Jackson’s HIStory tour. His self-titled first album ranks in the top ten shredder releases of all time. Lately, he’s moved back into jazz fusion and I’ve included a number of cuts from one of my all time favorite albums that he did with Victor Wooten and Dennis Chambers. His fiery guitar work is a great way to celebrate the Fourth of July.  Kicking off with some hot guitar. Enjoy!

Because Greg’s music is so powerful, I suggest a wine to match, namely Two Hands Angel’s Share  Shiraz (2009; $23.00).  The color is inky purple with a bouquet of red berries, mocha, vanilla, and spices. It has a bright, vibrant taste bursting with dark plum and blackberries with hints of coffee and chocolate. Great wine to match a great guitarist. Happy Fourth of July.